Soaring unemployment in the aftermath of COVID-19, on top of an existing backlog, has seen the highest level of employment tribunal claims in ten years. A person bringing an employment tribunal claim will now have to wait 14 months to have their case resolved, with while a quarter of people will have to wait at least 16 months.
While the bottleneck has soared during COVID-19, it was already building up long before the start of the pandemic. The scrapping of employment tribunal fees in 2017 saw a massive rise in claims sent to tribunal. COVID-19 related issues such as employment changes, furlough leave, redundancies and court closures have now added a new influx of claims to the existing backlog.
Outstanding employment tribunal cases
By the end of September 2020, the number of unresolved employment tribunal cases continued to rise dramatically, reaching 473,142, representing an increase of more than 11.5% on the previous year and nearly 40% on 2009/2010 figures from the same quarter. This rising backlog of cases means that it now takes around 39 weeks for a single case to be processed compared to 34 weeks in 2018/2019. If it continues at the same rate, the number of backlogged cases will reach 835,514 by the end of 2024.
Courts’ closures due to COVID-19 have exacerbated the rise in the number of unresolved tribunal cases. If employment tribunals are unable to hear cases quickly, there will be many outstanding claims over the next two years. Even with pre-COVID-19 cases, claimants could be waiting more than 12 months for a final hearing to decide the outcome of their case, and even longer if the case is more complex.
Plan to tackle the backlog
November’s Spending Review saw Chancellor Rishi Sunak announce £76m to expand family courts and employment tribunals. However, Labour warns that many workers may not bother to make claims because of how long they will have to wait. Labour is calling on the government to address the Employment Tribunal backlog, saying it has left many people waiting years for justice and unprotected at a time when they are most vulnerable. They want the government to put forward a plan to relieve the backlog that doesn’t dilute workers’ rights.
The employment tribunal system protects the rights of workers. However, the increase in demand combined with the existing backlog and limited capacity of the tribunal system could create the perfect storm, according to Citizens Advice. The information and advice service is concerned that vulnerable members of society such as parents, carers, people with disabilities and those required to shield are more likely to be made redundant. However, they will have to face many months of waiting to have their case heard and resolved.
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